If you are familiar with our journey, then you know how difficult it is for us to call any place “home.” In this line of work, there’s always confusion about where you belong. Sometimes we would joke about being homeless, not because we do not have a roof over our heads, but because we have too many places that we don’t exactly belong to anymore.
When we officially exhausted all the possibilities of renewing our visas and passports on Georgian land, it became clear that we had to take a pandemic trip to our home country. As thrilled as we were about that, we knew that leaving the host country so soon after launching might worsen our culture shock upon returning.
I had been longing for the feeling of home for so long. So when we stepped into a Romanian airport, I suddenly felt hit by a storm of emotions. It didn’t take long until I was finally feeling competent. I could finally speak eloquently and be understood. I did not need to ask people to speak slower or in another language. I knew what I needed to find and where. I was able to go shopping and find my favorite foods with no effort. For the first time in more than a year of riding in a car, I wasn’t squeezing the armrest to the point where my knuckles go white. Instead, I was enjoying the ride. We were all delighted to breathe fresh forest air and certainly enjoyed the company of our family. I could witness both of our children bloom and slowly crack their shells, unhindered by forced isolation or language barrier. Evan was back to his characteristic logorrhea, and Emily was starting to call for her grandma every night and getting friendlier with people other than her parents. Things finally seemed normal. We got so many things accomplished during our time there, and God’s timing was, as always, impeccable. However, the nagging feeling of not belonging stayed with us during the whole stay.
Fast forward to our return flight. My stomach was squeezing with anxiety and guilt for depriving our kids of all the great things they had enjoyed back home. Near the boarding gate, I propped myself up with one of our suitcases and watched my family, feeling blessed for them being the one constant in the hectic life we’ve been living the past month. At the end of a seven-hour layover, we were finally ready to board. But I was confident that I was not ready for culture shock again.
Then I heard a word that sounded familiar. Then a few more. It was a foreign language that I was partly understanding! I lifted my eyes to realize that all the boarding queue was in fact a miniature Georgia. Everyone looked and spoke Georgian. To my surprise, I discovered that I was wearing an enormous smile under my mask. I could not help it. I looked at Chris, and his red eyes were getting smaller, which means there was a smile on his face, too. I had no idea that the mere sight of Georgian faces would bring me so much joy and comfort!
This time, when we landed, we departed the airport with confidence. We began sharing Georgian words left and right, saying goodbye to our flight-mates. Then we started our long drive home, but not before the car broke down — twice. Trying to find help and spending two nights in the capital during the repairs turned out to be less frustrating than we anticipated. Finally, along the way home, we stopped for a comforting piece of “lobiani,” a bean-filled Georgian flatbread. This time around was so different compared to the first time we set foot on Georgian land. We weren’t the scared foreigners anymore. We were growing roots.
“I missed our city so much!” I heard Evan exclaim when the city appeared on the horizon. At home, I watched Emily sprint back to her toys with a huge grin on her face. I sighed with relief. For them, this is home. For me, it’s finally starting to become one. The street market people asked Chris where he had been this whole time. Our language teacher was happy to hear that some of her favorite students were back. Our neighbor Louise texted me a “Welcome home!” as soon as she noticed our bikes in the hallway.
Only two days ago, I witnessed Chris make a phone call without using a single word in English. He’s starting to be less of a “foreigner.” We are still waiting for that culture shock to kick in again but, by all appearances, we now have some antibodies to fight it off.
The challenges are still there. We still need all the prayers we can get. Only this time, we also feel what before we only knew — we are where God wants us to be. Thank you, God, for the gift of belonging!